This question creates the most fun and the most ulcers in my life.
There is no denying that it's invariably entertaining to watch the contortions I didn't know were possible with the apparatus known as the human face when I answer:
"I write musicals."
The reactions almost always start out quite blank, and then build from there, like a suddenly sour gas bubble after eating Aunt Edna's shepherd's pie. From here, the facial expressions can go one of three ways: remain in the blank state indefinitely (usually present on those who have no theatrical experience or interest in the theatre whatsoever, and thus truly have nothing to say); spiral into a panicked tug-of-war between "act nice" and "are they joking?"; or, my favorite, the lightbulb behind the eyes that says he/she/they/their grandchild love the theatre, are destined to become a star, and THIS is the big break they have been waiting for.
If the third path is decided upon in this Choose Your Own Adventure called "Conversation with a Theatre Person", I know that the rest of the evening will be a total hoot. I have become close to a Demi-god and can expect all of my jokes to be laughed at, even when I tell them more than once. It's fabulous.
If the first path occurs, it's really no big deal - I politely turn the conversation around, ask them what they do, and when they respond with something predictably boring, like "I'm an accountant" or "I build bathtubs", I return their blank stare in true actor-like dedication. Then, after a good twelve seconds, I suddenly yell "Eureka!" and run to my writing notebook and pretend to furiously jot down my next brilliant idea, making sure to angle the paper so they cannot see me sketching their face with boogers coming out of it.
But the second path - oy, oy OY (no, I am not Jewish, but I write musical theatre, so GO WITH IT). That is when all of my insecurities as a writer come out to play, and not with dolls, or even hide and go seek. They come out to play a life-size game of Battleship, where the missiles lodged are explanations as to why I bravely chose a creative life and the submarines on the enemy front are all the submerged doubts - mine and the enemy's included - about my ability to sustain myself living a creative life.
If all goes well and luck is in my favor, I will successfully catapult all of the right words and gestures and power poses across the divide, the enemy will be converted to my awesomeness, and leave impressed at my abilities to beat the odds as an artist. More often than not, however, these kinds of interactions end up with me biting my nails in the corner and wishing I had gotten a degree in Geophysics or Computer Science.
Any creative individual knows it's a daunting task to stand in front of the world and declare that art is what makes life worth living, and that plenty of artists make good money, and gosh-darn-it, we're going to be one of them, just you wait...for my check to clear (fingers crossed - can you maybe cash it on Friday?).
We are confronted with the questions that no artistic human knows the right answer to - do we get a college degree or save ourselves the time, money, and daily dose of classroom body odor because we already have within us everything we need? Do we slave away at a 9 to 5 job to pay the bills, to be practical, trying to find time in-between changing our kids diapers and going to the DMV to create what we were really meant to do in this world, or do we say Screw It, embrace ramen as a food staple and talk ourselves into the beautiful side of wearing underwear that we've owned since high school?
One thing I have learned in this crazy endeavor of mine to live authentically is that you attract whatever energy you put out into the world. There is no riding the fence in the ether that is human existence - you are either actively feeding into the energy that propels you toward authenticity, or you are moving away from it. I'm not perfect at it, but I feel I am getting better at being bold in my representation of my true self to others without apology or explanation. Day by day I am convincing my doubts that it's WAAAY more fun to play Spin the Bottle than Battleship, and sometimes it's pretty amazing to see what offspring pops out when they emerge from the closet after seven minutes in heaven. Nothing like giving a pair of doubts a ten pound sack of flour and a crying alarm that never goes off to knock them down a notch or two. It keeps them busy at least. Until I realize....wait a minute....why am I encouraging my doubts to multiply?!